It’s been a treat to have such films A Silent Voice, and Your Name showing at cinemas around the world. Anime are being shown more on the frequent in cinemas over the last year and it has been amazing. Two weeks ago I was lucky enough to catch a film by a new studio called Studio Ponoc, Mary and The Witch’s Flower, which was showing across Australia in January. Studio Ponoc being deemed as Studio Ghibli’s duplicate in terms of animation and characters.
This magical film brought a fresh approach that was different to Ghibli in ways. What made this refreshing? If you are keen to find out my final verdict. you better keep reading.
Influence and Plot
Founder Yoshiaki Nishimura was an animator for Studio Ghibli and started from the ground up in his new venture, Studio Ponoc. The influence of this film comes from children’s book The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart.
It is set in picturesque England and tells the story of Mary who moved to the countryside with her Aunt. Mary has a good heart but when attempting to help, she’s a klutz. She finds it hard to adjust to a new place and encountering a young boy Peter who teases her doesn’t make it easier.
While out exploring, she follows two cats, Tib and Gib, into the woods and discovers a rare flower a ‘Fly-By-Night’ that originates from witches. The following day, Gib goes missing. Mary searches for him and Tib shows her to a broomstick which awakens after so long, taking Mary on quite the adventure. As well gaining the ‘Fly-By-Night’ abilities to use magic, Mary is whisked away to a fantasy realm where she discovers a magic academy for witches.
Your Own Power
It’s hard enough for all of us to believe in ourselves right? In Mary and The Witch’s Flower, this common theme seen throughout anime was depicted in a truly honest sense. Mary will take you back to your childhood with her positive and bubbly personality. She’s a character you’ll quickly become attached to. It was a delight to have such a protagonist like Mary. She reminded me of Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service, but Mary had her own unique flare and approach towards the magical mess she got herself into.
Mary’s young innocence was a breath of fresh air. It is very important for young children to have encouragement and people to believe in them. Mary knew she was a klutz but still that good-will to help always backfired for her. In this magical adventure Mary becomes swept up in, she relies on fly-by-night flower and it’s magic. It gives her a sense of importance and purpose, especially when she discovers the magic academy for witches. Mary felt special and what child doesn’t want to feel special?
Through the turn of events and getting her friend Peter involved, Mary becomes resilient and with some encouragement from her Aunt, she gets that motivational push she needs. It’s easy to tell that Mary already had a strong-will and good heart, but she needed a push to realize that. Mary and The Witch’s Flower did a splendid job evoking the message, not only the child’s perspective but also the importance in giving people a push to realize their full potential and their own resolve. Mary realized she didn’t need magic to make her feel special or fix the problems that were in front of her. What’s inside is a stronger power that is funneled through your determination.
Spot On English Cast
When seeing Mary and The Witch’s Flower, I was completely surprised that the English voices were so wonderful that they made me love this film even more. The film is set in countryside England and used from Irish to more central English accents. It truly elevated the charm for each character. The role of Mary was voiced by Ruby Barnhill (you’ll know from 2016 BFG). Ruby had it down pact with Mary’s character, bringing to life Mary’s full-of-beans personality and optimism. Award academy winner Kate Winslet did not disappoint in her role as academy principal Madame Mumbelechook and brought that charisma and fascination her character was all about.
I was impressed with the English dub cast. It made viewing Mary and The Witch’s Flower a treat. The film turned out to be surprisingly funny thanks to the combination of English voices and characters. The comedic factor was strong throughout, especially with Mary’s quirky mistakes when things went wrong.
It’s understandable there would be those who would compare Mary and The Witch’s Flower to Studio Ghibli. After seeing this movie, I cannot deny that similar traits are there. Ghibli is known for their big characters tear-drops and obscure fantasy worlds. These traits were certainly here in Mary And The Witch’s Flower but the film has its own standing.
What I sensed was the feeling of a new beginning. In all Ghibli films I’ve seen, the villains have never left me feeling much for them. But the ‘so called’ villains Madame Mumblechook and Doctor Dee never believed to be full of bad intent. Both had their own ambitions and goals for wanting the power of the fly-by-night flower. Both had become absorbed in obsession and lose sight of what is important. This is similar for Lady Eboshi from Princess Mononoke who was easily being misunderstood for her directness. But this is completely different as Madame Mumblechook and Doctor Dee got caught up in their obsessions (not that it excuses some of the things they did).
Not all Ghibli films are suitable to younger audiences. A lot explore strong mature themes and only one I would suggest that would be suitable is The Cat Returns, my personal favorite of all 22 films. It is an enchanting tale that gave me the save vibes as Mary and The Witch’s Flower. Both are fun, magical adventures that younger audiences (even families) would enjoy. Mary and The Witch’s Flower offers a glimpse into the future potential of Studio Ponoc’s productions. In also a tame introduction to anime films in general. No offence to Spirited Away for example I’d recommend to anyone with younger children. But that is my personal preference.
Fun Magical Ride
From the luscious, vibrant animation to the quirky, lovable cast of characters, Mary and The Witch’s Flower was an enjoyable experience. It took me back to my days in England as a kid roaming the forest, when going on walks with my family. This film hit home for me and I recalled some good memories.
There are essences of Ghibli in Mary and The Witch’s Flower but Studio Ponoc made its mark for me in their first feature film, for being a nostalgic, funny and fun ride.
If you have the chance to see Mary and The Witch’s Flower, I highly recommend you do. It’s rare that I can recommend an anime film to families or younger viewers and this one though ticked all the boxes for being family friendly.
Read more at Mokugyo’s look of the relationship between the film and Studio Ghibli:
Mary and the Witch’s Flower: Looking at its Relationship with Studio Ghibli